Clark should clear the air on SNC-Lavalin

" Just like the wind and water when you're on a boat, thoughts will change. Thoughts are no different than anything else ."

- Jeff Bridges

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BUFFETED by swift-changing daily events, I deferred my unfinished column about the challenges of mental illness in adults and adjusted my sails to concentrate on other thoughts blowing in the wind.

Just two days into the provincial election campaign there are questions:

Details absent, Christy Clark says she has a plan to eliminate the debt the Liberals have doubled since 2001.

Her eraser is a plan that, at best, any new provincial government can only guarantee will be around for four years. Without new taxes, Clark's eggs are in the "trillion-dollar" liquefied-natural-gas basket. Trillion or not, the LNG basket is already being chased by so many countries that the commodity price has dropped to record lows over the past three years.

More attainable perhaps, NDP leader Adrian Dix says he will freeze ferry fares until an audit has revealed areas of unwise spending.

Needless to say, Clark jumped all over that with a claim that frozen fares would cause ferry maintenance to go wanting.

Before deciding who is closest to the truth, could someone answer the arithmetic questions I've had on my mind for months?

B.C. Ferries is operating way below capacity. Revenues and ridership have declined in lock-step with frequent fare increases. Although fewer passengers had the unintended benefit of reducing one-and two-sailing waits, what would happen if fares were reduced by, say, $25-$30 per one-way trip?

What price point would persuade passengers to return ridership numbers to 80-90 per cent capacity on the main routes? If that were to happen, would the corporation derive enough revenue to cover operating costs? Has anyone done the math?

Next: the slow-moving saga of SNC-Lavalin Inc.

Four weeks short of a May 2 shareholders' meeting, Clark's transition mentor Gwyn Morgan resigned as chairman of SNC-Lavalin on Apr. 4.

You might have thought that was a routine business development - until April 17, when the multi-lateral World Bank announced "the longest debarment period that has ever been agreed to in a World Bank settlement."

The blockbuster news release concerned the "debarment of SNC-Lavalin Inc - in addition to more than 100 affiliates - for a period of 10 years following the company's misconduct in relation to the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project in Bangladesh. . . ."

Regularly referred to as Canada's engineering giant, SNC-Lavalin already had enough on its plate as it tried to recover its reputation following the Feb. 11 charges laid against former CEO Pierre Duhaime and head of construction Riadh Ben Aissa.

Resulting from investigations by the RCMP and Swiss authorities, the charges allege fraud, conspiracy and bribery related to a $1.3-billion contract to build and operate a major hospital in Montreal and, in Ben Aissa's case, to contracts in Moammar Gadhafi's Libya.

In light of the World Bank decision and with the Duhaime charges yet to be heard in court, and with Ben Aissa still under arrest in Switzerland and in the knowledge that RCMP investigations are continuing in Canada: Why has Clark not made time during her campaign stops to issue a public statement as to the extent of Morgan's relationship to her outgoing Liberal administration?

Why has she not disclosed forthright information to British Columbians about SNC's position vis a vis the Evergreen Line contract and many other significant provincial projects?

Why has Adrian Dix not held the Liberals' feet to the fire on what is arguably the most influential private corporation at work in B.C.?

Lastly, what are the NDP plans for the letting of major contracts? Is it to be business as usual, or will they perform hefty due diligence?

I ask because, 13 years too late and regardless of who forms the next government, British Columbians still want the "open and transparent" government they were promised in 2001.

OK, that's it for the grim stuff. Now let's answer a medical question:

"Was it painful?" an older gentleman called from his wheelchair as he waited outside the Nuclear Medicine facility in Lions Gate Hospital.

"Absolutely not; best rest I've had all week," I encouraged him as I left the area last Wednesday afternoon.

To explain what I get up to when not at my desk. . . .

Sometimes, at the point where a person begins to grow younger not older, their systems need a degree of preventive maintenance.

That process began mid-January when I was dispatched to have X-rays of my feet, which had become painful when walking - that's pretty much all I use 'em for, 'ceptin' if politicians need a swift kick where it counts.

Anyway - since the X-rays showed changes too minor to account for the discomfort, the doc decided a bone scan was in order. I expected a long wait, akin to those for patients needing an MRI.

Not so. Just four mornings later I was given a painless injection of radioactive "tracer" and sent home to drink copious amounts of water before an afternoon scan.

After that, my job was to lie under the scanner for 45 minutes as it photographed my fully-clothed self.

That was it.

The scan doesn't see you off to Hawaii and you don't light up a room when you walk into it. But, no, it isn't painful.

All I do now is await the verdict - thinking thoughts about mental illness and the madness of B.C. politics.

rimco@shaw.ca

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